If you have a veteran in the family, you’ve heard at least a little about their time in the military. Maybe they showed you a unit patch, or brought a service jacket out of the closet, or maybe they shared a story or two around the dinner table. And while you might remember bits and pieces of those stories, it’s important to write these stories down so they can be passed down through the family.
Recording the stories and memories of your veteran’s time in military service is called an oral history interview. By writing down, or video or audio recording a series of questions and answers, you can commit your veteran’s stories and memories to a permanent form of record. Patriot Angels is here to help your veteran get the long term and assisted care they deserve. An engaging way for you to help care for your veteran is to conduct your own oral history interview with them.
Preparing For The Interview
Before you go any further, it’s always important to ask the veteran if they are willing to share their stories to begin with. Some might be resistant to the idea, while others might jump at the opportunity. With this in mind, every interview should have several components. This allows you as the interviewer to gather important details, while simultaneously nurturing any memories that could lead to more detailed dialogue.
It’s important to let the veteran guide their own story. Share your list of questions with the veteran before the interview so they can be more comfortable during the interview. You might have a list of questions you want to ask, but they might want to really develop a response to only one or two.
Also, if you are recording the interview with an audio or video recorder, make sure this device works properly before the interview. That way you don’t have to waste interview time fumbling with equipment.
Structuring Your Interview
You’ll want to ask about their life, in addition to their service, and memorable experiences during their wartime experiences. Answers to these questions might lead to insights into their lives after their service, and how their service shaped who they are. You might consider structuring your interview like this to spark productive and thoughtful responses.
Open with the details of the interview. These are aspects like the time, date and place of the interview, as well as the name, and birth date of the veteran. You might state your connection to the veteran, and why you’re interviewing them. You can ask the veteran which branch of service they were in, their rank, where they served and which conflicts they participated in.
These questions should focus on the veteran’s life before they joined the military. You might ask about their hometown, about their family and if they had any veterans in their family, and the circumstances of their life at that time. Some other questions you could ask might include:
- How did you join the military? Were you drafted or did you enlist?
- What were your motivations for joining the military?
- What was appealing about the branch you joined?
- What were your first days in service like?
- What was training like for you, and how did you get through it?
Questions like these are great ways to start the interview because they help to set a comfortable atmosphere.
You might frame these questions about their experiences in the military. For instance, if they served in a war, you might ask general questions about the war, and allow your interviewee to expand on their answers and fill in details. You might ask them about where they were stationed and where they fought, and how it felt to leave the USA. Thought provoking questions like these often lead to interesting responses:
- Which war(s) did you serve in?
- Where were you sent, and do you remember what it felt like to arrive?
- What job were you assigned? Did you choose it?
- What are some memorable moments you remember?
- Did you see combat?
- Were you awarded any medals or citations? Why?
For some, these memories might be painful, and the veteran you’re interviewing may be hesitant to share. Again, it’s important to let the veteran tell their own story, don’t push them to share things they are uncomfortable with.
Life In The Service
Life in the military isn’t always combat. In fact, much of it may have consisted of sitting and waiting. Asking questions about life in the service may yield some humorous or fascinating stories. Ask about what they did for fun in their free time, who they made friends with, and how they maintained relationships across the country, or even the world. You might consider questions like:
How did you stay in contact with friends and family?
- What was the food like, and did you get enough?
- How did you feel in combat?
- How did you entertain yourself? Did you play games, or tell jokes?
- What did you think of your fellow service members and officers?
- Do you have any photos you could share?
Asking about the day-to-day activities in military service generally results in some lighthearted and funny responses.
Leaving The Military
Some veterans may have served longer than others. Asking about the end of their career may bring up a mix of emotions. For some, it could be nostalgia, and for others, it could spark a moment of relief. You could structure your questions like:
When did your service end?
- Where were you?
- What did you do next?
- How did you feel about leaving the military?
- Do you still keep in touch with other veterans?
Their responses may lead to a natural discussion about how they felt about their military service more generally.
Military service shapes how a veteran lives the rest of their life. Asking about what they did after the war, or their service allows them the opportunity to tell you how their service influenced them. You can conclude your interview with questions about how the veteran chooses to remember their service, and if they continue to make military service a defining part of their life and identity. Make sure to thank the veteran for their time, their service, and their willingness to share their experiences with you.
Saving Their Stories
Once you’ve recorded the interview, it’s a good idea to transcribe the recording and give a copy to the veteran as a way to say thanks. You can hold onto a copy for yourself, as well as find a nearby collection to store the transcription at. Often, local libraries or archives have collections of oral histories from veterans, or other local figures. You might bring your record to them and add to the knowledge of your local community. The Library Of Congress has created the Veterans History Project, which helps all Americans connect to their service members through interviews like these, and to learn more about the conflicts our country has engaged in through the voices of those who served in them.
As always, if you’re looking for ways to care for the veterans in your life, don’t hesitate to reach out to Patriot Angels. We are experts in navigating the VA’s Aid and Attendance Pension. This pension can get the llong-termhelp your veteran needs as they age.